This year’s fried food finalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards sponsored by Michelin did not fail to disappoint as winners were chosen for best tasting and most original on Sunday August 30 at the Exposition Building in Fair Park. After tasting all eight foods and carefully evaluating each item, the all-star panel of judges has made its tallies and cast its final votes. Drum roll please…and the winners are: Best Tasting goes to Christi Erpillo for Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly, while Isaac Rousso takes the title of Most Creative for his Smoky Bacon Margarita. In addition to their winning titles, both champions receive a set of Michelin Defender LTX tires.
Best Tasting – Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly
Created by Christi Erpillo, Christi’s family is well known to the State Fair of Texas as being the first to introduce us to that powdered sugar goodness known as funnel cake since the 1980’s and being State Fair concessionaires for the past 47 years. This sweet treat hitting concession stands at this year’s State Fair of Texas takes Golden-baked bread swirled with cinnamon and then flattened and filled with moist carrot cake, plump raisins and crunchy julienned carrots. Rolled with a light coating of cream cheese and then breaded in a mixture of panko, graham crackers, cinnamon and nutmeg. In my personal opinion, the dessert tasted more like a cross between a cinnamon roll and a funnel cake with a crunchy outside and gooey inside. The dipping sauces of both caramel and whipped cream hit the spot with this fried food dessert treat. Hitting the mark and sure to be a crowd favorite among the other best tasting winners at this year’s State Fair of Texas.
Most Original – Smoky Bacon Margarita
One of the most unusual entries this year really didn’t live up to the taste hype for me but in Dallas, the birthplace of the frozen margarita, it’s best to make sure your margaritas have a few key ingredients: fresh lime and good tequila – gimmicks need not apply. Issac Rousso won with his Smoky Bacon Margarita. This drink adds a subtle smoke to it by taking the smokiness of freshly-cooked bacon and infusing it into a frozen lime margarita. It’s finished off with a pinch of bacon crumbles on top in a souvenir cup. Contains alcohol – must be 21 years of age. I didn’t taste much of the bacon or smokiness to it and the margarita was a little more on the sweet side than on the tangy citrus side and looked like a neon green slurpee moreso than a frozen margarita. The cup is cute and if you plan on buying it, having a souvenir cup maybe worth the food tickets spent on it.
This Year’s Judges
I do not envy the job of this year’s judges as it was a difficult task to determine this year’s winners. The judges were: Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks point guard and member of the 2009 NBA All-Star Team; Drew Pearson, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and host of “Big Game Sunday”; Dan Rodo, YouTube phenomenon and host of new TV show “Let’s Go! DFW”; John Tesar, renowned chef and owner of local restaurants Knife, Oak and El Bolero; Tiffinni Young, Dallas native, community leader and Dallas City Councilwoman for District 7. Serving as the sixth judge, audience member Bridget Russell was lucky enough to get her name picked from the random drawing and fill the spot of special guest judge. Leading the awards ceremony as emcee was talk show host Donovan Lewis of Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket. The media was in a frenzy over John Tesar’s opinions of this year’s entrants and who knows if any of these fried food stylings might make their way into his restaurants – this is Dallas y’all so you never know.
The other food finalists that made it to the final round include: Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy by Abel Gonzales, Cowboy Corn Crunch by Isaac Rousso, Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest by Cassy Jones, Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo by James Barrera, Lone Star Pork Handle by Justin Martinez and Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso by Allan Weiss. I have a rundown of how the other entries tasted and your State Fair of Texas food ticket “Must Tries” if you plan on spending your money on fried food goodness.
- Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy – This one is definitely a “Must Try.” Abel Gonzales Jr has had a few winners in past competitions. Being a finalist for the past 9 years, I’m pretty confident when Abel comes up with something it’s going to be good. His list of winners include: fried peanut butter & jelly sandwich, fried Coke, fried cookie dough, fried butter and fried jambalaya. This particular item was as good as it sounds. The chicken fried batter was not too hard and also not too brittle either. It coated the lobster tail leaving the tail very succulent and full of flavor. The champagne gravy was also very light and not overpowering of the lobster. The sides included a corn and kidney bean relish and French fries. The dish could have done away with the French fries as it was a soggy companion to an otherwise great fried food entry.
- Cowboy Corn Crunch Issac Rousso’s second entry finalist is what fair food is all about. Easy to carry around in a nice paper cup cone and bite sized that it is easy to eat, easy to clean up, and less messy than other fair foods. This little nugget of spicy goodness is filled with a sweet corn, minced jalapeño, rich cream cheese and a hint of smoky bacon. This is another “Must Try.”
- Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest by Cassy Jones is making a debut this year. This is a first for alligator meat. Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest blends rich alligator meat with Monterey Jack cheese, chopped jalapeños, onions and garlic. It is then rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried to the perfect golden brown. It didn’t really live up to the hype in terms of spiciness like the other entries and I’ve eaten alligator before and I felt like the alligator meat got lost in the other flavors.
- Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo by James Barrera – yes it’s buffalo meat and another first for the Big Tex Choice Awards taking lean ground buffalo and flavored with a Mesquite smoke and rolled in Pequin chili pepper. The meat is then crusted in crushed Corn Nuts® and dipped in a batter made from Shiner Bock Beer®. The meatball was lightly dusted with bacon bits and served with a chipotle cream sauce. It looked and tasted like a ground beef meatball and the batter was light but for some reason it just didn’t seem to have a lot of flavor or spice.
- Lone Star Pork Handle by Justin Martinez – This was one that I really liked. I thought the serving size was quite large and the bourbon barbecue glaze quite tasty. The Lone Star Pork Handle takes a hand-cut bone-in pork chop, marinates it with a pork rub, then dips it in batter made from Lone Star Beer®. The seasoned pork chop is then smothered in toasted bread crumbs and deep fried to a crisp, golden brown. Quite tasty but I stop short of calling it a “Must Try” only because it looks like something you can make with Shake and Bake at home.
- Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso by Allan Weiss – You really can’t go wrong with fried cheese. If you like fried cheese then this would be a “Must Try.” I thought using a pretzel crust was a great idea to keep all that chewy goodness in place. The shredded chicken was a good touch instead of chunks and combined with cream cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, cilantro and Sriracha sauce made for a good fried food snack. I enjoyed the jalapeño ranch dipping sauce.
Introducing the Big Tex mascot
The State Fair of Texas introduced a Big Tex mascot during the Big Tex Choice Awards, complete with cowboy gear and a kid-friendly smile and face. The Fair’s newest friend serves as a continuation of the “Texification” project, an initiative that began in 2014 to further emphasize the feeling of Texas pride throughout the fairgrounds. Guests will be able to meet the mascot during this year’s Fair, where he’ll be making special appearances and posing for photo ops! Yes, Get a photo with Big Tex!
First time Fan Voting
For the first time ever, the Fair is holding an additional food competition – one that lets you – the fair goers decide who wins. Fairgoers can vote for their favorite Big Tex Choice Awards finalist in the all-new fan favorite contest, launching during the 2015 Fair. If you missed out on the big event and didn’t get to taste all the finalists at the Big Tex Choice Awards, don’t worry – you’ve still got 24 days to try all eight items, plus the slew of other new foods being offered at the Fair this year. As another new addition, fair fanatics can pick up a food map that lays out the vendor locations for each of the finalists, making it easy to map out your route and hit all the hot spots along the way. Maps will be available at State Fair Information Booths, as well as online at BigTex.com. Once you’ve made your way through the concession stands, you can go online and cast your vote in the fan favorite contest, starting Opening Day, September 25. Be on the lookout for your top-pick – the winner will be announced the final weekend of this year’s exposition.
Celebrating a decade of decadence in 2014, the annual Big Tex Choice Awards ceremony opened its doors to the public for the first time. A limited number of State Fair fans got the chance to attend the event and serve as taste-testers for the food finalists in last year’s competition. Presented by Michelin®, the 11th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards built off of last year’s success and once again sold tickets to the event, with all proceeds going to the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Fund. Over its 23 year history, the Youth Scholarship Program has awarded scholarships to more than 1,600 students for a total of more than $4.5 million. Eligible recipients include graduating high school seniors from around the state of Texas who have competed in State Fair livestock events, as well as graduating seniors from five Fair Park area schools – Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, James Madison, Lincoln, North Dallas and Woodrow Wilson High Schools.
This year’s State Fair of Texas runs from September 25th through October 18, 2015 For more information about the State Fair of Texas and for ticket information, please visit BigTex.com.